When the customs got customers

A few years ago I assisted at a workshop for the Swedish Customs authority, where we were detailing some of their future visions and strategies. They told me that a couple of years earlier they have had another workshop when they suddenly had a eureka moment: ”we have customers!”

They realised that by tradition, customs authorities in general consider the people who passes the borders as being unconfirmed criminals. All effort is put to stop drug trafficking and other forms of smuggling, and to stop the wrong people from entering. But the majority of people, tourists or professionals, are just honest people. So what if the Swedish Customs took a little bit of the resources they spend on the suspected minority, and spent it on making everything better and easier for the honest majority? Treating them like customers!

This new focus ignited a lot of innovation and development, in order to be the best customs in the world. New integrated IT systems made it possible to administrate all the routines even before the package is on the truck, so that the actual border crossing could be quick and efficient. Amongst other things. Together with the customer insight, also came the insight that there are competitors even in this business. How? Well, when importing things to Europe you have choice through which country you want it transported. And if one country offers you smooth routines and adequate service it’s a good reason to pass through that country. Whose customs will be able to provide new jobs!

I think this is a brilliant example of the shift towards experience focus, as so many other things in the postmodern society. In this case a lot of quantitative, concrete, efficiency oriented measures were taken in a seemingly modernistic way. But the driving force was the customers perceived needs and experiences. The Swedish Customs is now something more than what it was before.

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